By Ray Hamill — With an assortment of talent back from a team that won all 19 games a year ago while outscoring their opponents 111-3, the Eureka Loggers remain the team to beat as H-DNL girls soccer gets under way on Wednesday evening.
The Loggers open at home to McKinleyville, while Del Norte travels to Fortuna and Arcata plays at South Fork.
Neither Ferndale nor Hoopa will field a team, while St. Bernard’s has a bye.
Here then is a breakdown of all seven H-DNL squads.
Tigers poised for title challenge
TheTigers have a core group of returning stars up the spine of their team, which should give head coach Patrick Stranahan a solid foundation on which to mount a league challenge.
Zoe Leonard will anchor the defense, with Zakia Elloway in midfield and Bailey Cherms up front, all of them co-captains in 2019.
“We have some very strong returning players and a younger group that’s coming up,” Stranahan said. “The chemistry is amazing already. There’s no cliques, they’re all on the same page.”
After placing third in league play, the Tigers finished runners-up to Eureka in the North Coast Section playoffs in 2018.
For a full season preview on the Tigers, see Tigers have plenty of experience in key areas …
Del Norte could be ready for breakout campaign
Warriors fans can expect better things out of Del Norte girls soccer in 2019.
Second-year head coach Ashley Herrera is joined by new assistant Andy Salatnay this year and the players appear to be taking enthusiastically to a new style of play.
“They’re bonding really well,” Herrera said. “It’s a whole new style of play for the players and they’re picking it up so well.”
The Warriors will be led at the back by returners Melanie Alvarado and Payton Machado, who will anchor the center of defense, while big things are also expected out of midfielders Kristen Brous and Lanaeya Botelho.
Bailey Gonzalez and Vianna Vongphachan will start on the wings.
Up front the addition of junior basketball star Jadence Clifton will give the Warriors extra athleticism.
“She’s fitting in great,” Herrera said.
The Warriors will also be boosted by the return of Alyssa McCovey who missed most of last season through injury.
“Their positioning and ball handling has been great,” the head coach said of her players. “They’re looking really clean out there on the field.”
And Herrera is eying more league wins in 2019 than the four the Warriors managed a year ago.
“I expect a lot more wins,” she said. “And more wins defensively, where the girls feel they have more control of the game.”
Loggers still the team to beat
A trio of talented juniors will anchor this year’s Eureka team — Keylei Carrol in defense, and Klayre Barres and Aquene Tollefson in attack.
Also back to give new head coach Tommy Learmouth plenty of quality options throughout the lineup are forward Adriana Newland and center back Rebecca Russ.
“I like that we’re coming together,” the first-year head coach said. “We’re forming more of a family than a team. I love their work ethic. They come out every day and they want to play hard.”
For a full preview on this year’s Eureka team, see Still the team to beat, Loggers prepare to defend league title …
Fortuna girls expected to compete
Veteran head coach Kathleen Lynch returns to the sideline after a two-year break as the Huskies look to build on last year’s second-place finish in the H-DNL.
The Huskies open against a new-look Del Norte team and will be expected to be a top-three team again, at the very least.
Seniors Gisselle Cruz and Darly Diaz, and junior Sarah Hohman, will be expected to lead the way on a deep roster that Lynch plans to utilize.
For more on the Huskies, see Familiar face on hand as Fortuna girls open new soccer season …
Mack girls open at Eureka
The Panthers are off to a 1-2 start and open league play at Eureka on Wednesday.
Freshman Sofia Reyes got her high school career off to a flying start with four goals in McKinleyville’s opener, a 6-1 win against Willits.
Junior Mackenzie Bray is also expected to play a big role for the Panthers after opening the season with five assists and a goal in the Willits game.
Crusaders getting more comfortable
A number of players are stepping into bigger roles for the Crusaders this season, on a team that will benefit from making it all the way to the NCS championship game a year ago.
Gone are talented seniors Jasa Sismore, Ally Del Grande and Maddie Costa, but the coaches have plenty of talented players to fill those gaps.
Most notably the addition of Josie Petersen in goal.
The athletic junior, who also plays volleyball, will take over from Costa between the posts this fall, where she has had an immediate impact.
“She’s fit right in as goalkeeper and has done really well,” assistant coach Phil Rouse said. “She’s been a really good addition to the team.”
Big things are also expected up front from senior Marayah Tomlinson, who has not disappointed in the early going, netting from 30 yards out with a rocket of a shot against Del Norte.
“She’s been working on her technique and has a really great shot,” Rouse said. “She’s kind of setting the tone right now.”
Senior Mackenzie Finck is back in the heart of midfield, along with Emma Wilson, one of a talented group of sophomores that should provide a solid foundation for a few years to come.
That sophomore class also includes Ema Brenes, a strong defender who likely will move further up the field this season, as well as Jessica Rutter, a forward who can hold onto the ball and is an excellent penalty taker.
“They’re definitely the future of the team,” Rouse said of the trio.
Seniors Shelby Jordan and Rachel Rodrigues are also expected to play big roles in defense this season.
Jordan is one of the strongest players in possession in the entire league and will play sweeper and right back, while the versatile Rodrigues will play defense and attack, as well as serving as the back-up goalie, where she impressed at Del Norte last week.
“She knows how to shield the ball,” Rouse said of Rodrigues. “She’s physical, powerful and fast … she’s a fighter.”
Two juniors — twins Malia and Fa’apisa Fonoti — are also expected to play a key role for the Crusaders on the outside of midfield.
“When they settle down and find each other, they play really good soccer,” Rouse said of his team. “They know how to play and they’re getting more comfortable.”
Future of South Fork soccer in good hands
Talented junior and freshmen classes bode well for the future of South Fork soccer, but numbers could be a problem as they get set to open league play on Wednesday.
With injuries and the flu bug taking their toll this week, Cubs head coach Ann Constantino has just 10 players available for Wednesday’s opener against Arcata.
Whether or not the Cubs are forced to forfeit remains to be seen, but Constantino has proposed a game of 30-minute halves.
Either way, a more important game awaits the Cubs on Friday when they play Mendocino in what essentially is a must-win showdown for NCS inclusion.
The Cubs will be led this year by co-captains Harley Bates, one of just two seniors on the team, and Marian Del Rio, a junior playmaker who has been instrumental for the team so far this year.
“This is really a fun little team,” Constantino said.
With a core group of talented and quick freshmen like Summer Contreras and Macy Yarbrough among others, the Cubs could be competitive for a few years to come.
Contreras scored the team’s opening six goals of the season, and has been getting great service from some dynamic wing play.
“It’s amazing,” Constantino said. “We’ve got speed and skill, and we’ve got a nice mixture of skill on both sides of the ball. It’s a really well rounded and dedicated team.”
Del Rio, according to her coach, can play anywhere on the field and “knows how to find the rhythm of the game.”
Bates, meanwhile, has been providing great leadership, crucial for a young team.
Sophomore goalkeeper Lyndsee Brewer also continues to develop.
“She’s growing by leaps and bounds, literally,” Constantino said. “She’s doing really great stuff.”
In defense, junior Alahni Christianson will anchor the unit at stopper, while junior Kalea Juan will move from defense to midfield where big things are expected out of her this fall.